3 Tips to Protect Your Family’s Peace

January 22, 2015

Life Well LED Community,

This week I’m so thrilled to feature a guest blog by Speaker, Author and Conversation Catalyst Anne E. Denny.

I had the privilege of meeting Anne at Michael Hyatt’s Platform Conference a few months ago, and I was moved by Anne’s passion and her very important work. It’s personal for me, and perhaps it is for you as well.

You see, when my grandmother, Amelia, fell ill many years ago, I saw my mother’s life change before my eyes. It was a blessing that she didn’t work and was able to manage my grandmother’s care, but I saw it take a toll on her. For 7 months until my grandmother’s unfortunate passing, she had to put her life on hold, figure everything out, and make difficult decisions that she often did not know were right or wrong; good or bad. It was extremely stressful and emotional.

At some point in our lives (and many of you have been there, or are there now), we may have to care for a loved one. Anne helps us to be proactive, make those difficult conversations easier, and mostly, prepare us for all the potential experiences that can drain us of our time, energy, and resources if we are not prepared.

I know you’ll appreciate Anne’s work as much as I do.

It’s your life. Lead it well.

January is a “can-do” month. Fueled by our New Year’s resolutions , we feel empowered to achieve numerous goals. While some may be noble and virtuous, such as volunteering for a good cause, many are self-improvement focused: weight loss, increased exercise, financial success, and more.

Are any of your goals this year focused on your family’s peace and emotional future? Specifically, have you ever considered the potential impact on your family if you have any major unexpected changes to your health?

Recently, a dear friend and business colleague called to ask for my assistance. Dave’s wife had just been diagnosed with melanoma. An appointment at the Mayo Clinic was days away. Both his wife and he wanted to make sure her preferences for care were clearly defined. In the event a treatment decision was required—and she was unable to communicate her wishes—Dave wanted to be sure he was honoring her choices.

Dave’s family Summer 2014

Today I received an email from another friend telling me she was being discharged from the hospital after a radical hysterectomy. The words “stage IV” cancer took my breath away. This is her second journey with cancer.

None of us knows what might befall us. Life happens—but denial is not an effective strategy. Proactive preparation for future healthcare decisions can protect your family’s peace, sparing those you love from arguing over your care.

Answering three key questions will open the door to important end-of-life conversations with your loved ones.

Who will speak for you if you can’t speak for yourself?

If you are unable to make or communicate your treatment and care preferences, who will make the decisions on your behalf? Choose your healthcare agents wisely. Your agents are the people you select to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot communicate your wishes.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 11.29.08 AM

All too often, healthcare agents are chosen by tradition. A husband assumes his wife will be prepared to make the healthcare decisions that honor his wishes. A widower assumes his eldest son will lead his siblings to consensus regarding the best treatment option for his care.

But what if a spouse is unwilling to let go of her beloved husband of 60 years, disregarding clear evidence that death is imminent? Or, what if the passive character of the chosen healthcare agent is overrun by the emotional dynamics between siblings, spiraling the family into bitter disputes?


Tip #1: Choose your healthcare agents wisely.

By understanding the responsibilities of your healthcare agent and the critical traits of an effective healthcare agent, you can choose your decision-maker(s) wisely.

How will your loved ones know what choices to make?

Assuming your loved ones will know what to do is a common, and often disastrous, mistake many people make. Even if your spouse or adult child knows you well, imagine the emotional stress they might experience if a doctor asked them to quickly make a life-or-death decision regarding your healthcare treatment. In a crisis, we are not clear thinkers. Emotions are amplified. Family dynamics are on steroids.

Tip #2: Write a healthcare directive to put your treatment preferences in writing.

A variety of tools and resources are available to help you write an effective healthcare directive that includes:

  • Clear treatment guidelines for your care,
  • Statements of values and beliefs that will support decision-makers, and
  • Expressed needs for emotional and spiritual care.

Will your loved ones be prepared to honor your wishes?

The emergency room is the worst possible place for your family to consider for the first time what your wishes are for end-of-life healthcare. In the absence of your written, clearly stated treatment preferences, disagreement over your care is not only possible—it is highly probably. Sibling battles can rage as each individual argues for what he or she believes is the best choice for Mom or Dad.

Family conflict is one of the primary reasons patients languish in Intensive Care for weeks. Loved ones who are unwilling to let go advocate for more and more treatment—hoping for a miracle—in spite of clinical evidence that the patient is actively dying.

Tip #3: Have a family meeting to share your wishes.

Openly discussing your end-of-life preferences with all of the impacted loved ones is incredibly helpful. Everyone can hear the same message. Questions can be answered. The chosen healthcare agent(s) can be identified so everyone knows who will be the ultimate decision-maker(s). Having the support and guidance of a trained facilitator, such as a social worker, therapist, or nurse, is worthy of consideration.

Together, you and your family can prepare for a future medical emergency. Choose your healthcare agents wisely. Clearly document your wishes. Have a family meeting to communicate your wishes. You—and those you love—can have peace of mind.

About the author:

UntitledSpeaker, author and blogger Anne Elizabeth Denny educates, inspires and equips families to share meaningful conversations about end-of-life healthcare choices. Anne graduated from the University of Notre Dame. She has served as a business consultant in the healthcare industry since 1995. Anne’s professional and personal experiences inspired her to write her book My Voice, My Choice: A Practical Guide to Writing a Meaningful Healthcare Directive, create her blog, and develop healthcare directive software for healthcare delivery systems. Most of all, Anne loves to share motivational presentations to make end-of-life healthcare planning approachable for everyone.


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